Wednesday, March 31, 2010

In Your Own Interest

Here is something slightly different. I wrote directly to the agent of one of my favorite authors. I did this once before with Simon Lipskar at Writer's House because he had represented Christopher Paolini but I don't have that query anymore because he does not accept e-queries. Yes, he rejected me too.

Sorry for all the REDACTIONS but this is not about figuring out which agents did what. It's supposed to be about all the hilarious (and sometimes cringe-worthy) blunders I made while running the query gauntlet. This query's actually not as terrible as some of the others.

May 7th, 2009


My name is Matthew Rush and I am writing to you specifically because you represented REDACTED in his publishing of the REDACTED Trilogy, by a major publishing house.

I am seeking representation for my YA novel which has the working title, Warrior-Monks, and is complete at approximately 475,000 words. The sequel, which is untitled, currently exists only in outline form. I am enclosing a synopsis but will not include any sample chapters because your website clearly states that you will request a manuscript if you have an interest. I will say though, that this story really has to be read to be appreciated as the synopsis included here simply does not do it justice.

Some people will say it's okay to put this stuff (word count, title) at the beginning of your query and they might be right but the prevailing wisdom is: start with your pitch/hook. Describe the plot, characters and conflict first because all that technical info does matter, but not as much.

Don't mention a sequel. The bit about following her submission guidelines is okay, it's good to show the respect of taking the time to actually read their website/blog, but like in writing just show them that you did by doing it - no need to spell it out like this.

That synopsis gibberish which you have seen over and over by now is utter rubbish. Everyone knows a synopsis does not do a story justice. It sounds desperate and insecure to put that in here.

I absolutely loved all three of REDACTED'S books and found the humor to be incredibly refreshing in such a fantasy-adventure novel. My story may be intended for a slightly older readership but it is definitely young adult literature.

If you are going to make these kind of comparison's (which you shouldn't) it is good to at least compliment the other author, especially if it's someone the agent represented. If so they are probably pretty good friends, if they weren't they probably wouldn't choose to work together in such an important partnership.

I love Eastern Cultures and art forms – Martial Arts, Calligraphy, Japanese Swords, Tea Ceremony etcetera and all the tradition and high level of art that go into them. I also love magic and fantasy and eastern religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoism. Warrior-Monks incorporates all of these themes in a fantastic way which has never been done in young adult fantasy to my knowledge.

I'm not going to talk about this paragraph again. It's been analyzed enough.

Lee is a troubled young man from a broken family. After being expelled from boarding school and having experienced several brushes with the law, his adopted parents, who also happen to be his cruel aunt and uncle, decide to ship him off to a strange and distant reform school which is in the remote wilderness in the panhandle of Northern Idaho. He becomes a member of a group of 12 other students who arrived at the school at the same time as him. They are all very afraid and apprehensive about what will be going on at the school but they are soon pleased to discover that it is not nearly as bad as they had feared.

This paragraph (and part of the one after) could have been the whole query. Just add the very first sentence, but put it at the end, and you've got a decent query. This is a poor example of a pitch/hook, conflict and mini-synopsis, but it is a rough example of the important part of a query. The rest is chaff.

After working in the Wood-Corral for several months they begin taking classes like Aikido, Kenjutsu, Calligraphy and Meditation. It is some time before they discover that through meditation they can imbue their calligraphic scrolls with ancient magic. The book consists of many themes such as the beauty of nature, the life-energy that exists in everything and the awkward struggles that teenagers go through as they grow into themselves and become adults. Lee’s coming of age and struggling with the loss of his mother and the breaking of his family form the core of this introspective but also character driven tale.


I live in the United States but I would love to be represented by the literary agent who has worked with one of my literary heroes. Please feel free to reply to this email, or to call me on my mobile phone at US country code +206-555-1212 or to write to me at home at:


Did I forget to mention this was a UK agent? Oops. I've gone over before why this is bad. Please see my post: Another Bad Creation for more info.

I have never been published but I am confident that you and REDACTED have proven that one does not have to be a highly experienced or previously best-selling author to write an incredibly entertaining book.

Thank you for your consideration of this proposal. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

I think it was Janet Reid at Query Shark who suggested you can take this "looking forward to" part out. She makes a good point because if you're going to be getting rejected ... you're not really looking forward to it. The "thank you" has to stay. Being polite but professional is very important.


Matthew M. Rush

Now I doubly don't know why that synopsis disclaimer is up there, considering I did not include a synopsis in the email. Doh!

Her reply:

Dear Matthew,

Thank you very much for your inquiry regarding your novel.

However, I feel that in your own interest you should have an agent in the United States to represent your work. First novels often need editorial work and while it is possible to do it via email, it works much better if you can meet and talk things over. As we are only a very small agency, we are unable to take on clients from outside of the UK.

Thank you very much for writing to us. I wish you the every success with your book.

Kind regards,


I'm not positive but I'm pretty sure this is not a form rejection. It doesn't really matter either way: rejected is rejected, but it does feel a little nicer sometimes. This one is really nice in fact, even gives me some concrete advice in its own way. I think it's partly because British people are so much more polite; or at least better at seeming so.

One thing I will point out: This query was sent out on the very second day after I began querying. It is not a great query letter but it IS better than even some of the ones I sent out after it. Why? Because I loved this author and I really wanted to be represented by his agent. The foreign representation issue aside, I spent a lot more time crafting this query. Let that be a lesson. I spent over six months writing my novel. Why not put an equal amount of research/effort/passion into my query letter?

I'm not saying it should take all day to tailor a query letter to a specific agent, but it might help to take it that slow. Send out one highly polished and targeted letter each day for a week. Then see what kind of reactions you get. If it's five form rejections you know it's probably the query.

Oh, and if you have a list of like five or ten agents that you really like - don't query them first. Wait until you've learned a little and gauged the current industry's reaction to your project.


Unknown said...

Hi Matthew~ Thanks for visiting my blog and the follow. I don't know what happened when I tried to follow you last night. The Blogger mice have been up to no good all week, so I blame them. All fixed now!

I think it's great how generous you are with your query advice. Using examples from your own letters to show why something doesn't work in a query is brave, honest, and touches your readers on a personal level. I know I'll be remembering these posts when I sit down to craft my first letters.

It's great to meet you! Have a wonderful day~

Matthew MacNish said...

Thanks so much Nicole - that is pretty much exactly what I was hoping for when I decided to do this project so you pretty much just made my day.

Well I was hoping for that and that some agent might see my blog, find me to be hilarious, witty, and just altogether brilliant - and then send me a query letter - begging to represent me.

JE said...

You know, one day you are going to get a "yes" to the query and "yes" the to submission and then what will we do? Hopefully you'll come up with more stuff to post on the blog!

And, about the intro/word/title in the beginning. Nathan has blogged about this, and so have other agents. Nathan doesn't like that stuff up top, some do. It's important to research particular agents to see what they do like. But grr...sometimes that information is hard to find. If I can't locate it, I just plug it in down at the bottom. Hopefully some small like that wouldn't be deal-breaker.

Is was nice to see a personal rejection letter, though. I hate the letters that say "I'm sorry for sending you a standard rejection, but my time doesn't really allow much else" or something like that. It kills me they are saying sorry for being so impersonal when we try to be so personal with our queries. Crazy I tell ya'.

Matthew MacNish said...

Justine, I know, good point. I've thought about that a lot. Even if I never get a yes I will eventually run out of old queries. Then what the hell am I going to blog about?

Christi Goddard said...

I would post my queries, but they're all form rejections that everyone's already seen. :-)

Tracy said...

"Now I doubly don't know why that synopsis disclaimer is up there, considering I did not include a synopsis in the email. Doh!"

That made me laugh, only because -- with the second query letter I ever sent out I went to such trouble to make sure to include the self-address-stamped envelop (I prefer snail mail for some reason) ... the day after I sent it I realized I forgot to put a STAMP on my self-addressed-stamped envelope.

Matthew MacNish said...

Thanks for sharing your pain Tracy, we're all human, shit happens, but somehow it makes it a little less painful to share it with the world. Or at least it does for me (I hope, still trying to find out for sure).

Unknown said...

I'm loving this query advice, and I love reading what your experiences have been!

I am now following you... again... I think! Lets hope it works this time, if not as always feel free to stop by unedited and let me know :)

Matthew MacNish said...

Jen, it worked, not sure what was wrong with blogspot, but thanks for coming back!

Unknown said...

Just came across your blog and as I am getting ready to send out my first queries any day now - it is so interesting to see your experiences. Thanks very much for being so honest.

Matthew MacNish said...

You are most welcome Ariel. Wait til this Friday morning before querying and you'll get to see a great guest post here by Justine Dell where she shares an ACTUAL query that ACTUALLY got an agent to request her MS!